(You may recognize Albert’s name from the Ukiah Daily Journal’s letters to the editor page that he frequents. Gadfly? Curmudgeon? Sounds about right…)
I grew up in the Upper Hudson Valley, in the town of Catskill, and attended school K - 12 there, and graduated with my high school class of '49, with around 50 classmates. My dad had died when I was 15 from a "pulmonary thrombosis", as I understood it. That translates into two pack a day chain smoking Camels all his adult life, and he was only 47 when he popped off.
My dad had had a small manufacturing company in New York, and prior to my birth, to escape union pressure, he moved it to Coxsackie N.Y., a few miles north of Catskill. He was an authoritarian, a Republican, and he took raising his only child very seriously by guiding me through the N.Y. Times Sunday edition spread out all over the living room floor, and by buying a baby grand for piano lessons. Later on, that was a once a week bus trip to Albany for lessons at the conservatory. I would cheat at practicing, and just start improvising.
But there was my mother's youngest sister, who had attended the Columbia School of social work, and was an active communist. She and a couple of other sisters were my "Team of Aunts”… pro "mommy" and against the authoritarian Man. They kept up a war of conflicting parenting styles: "Albert, you don't have to follow orders".
My aunt argued with my father about economics and everything else. As a disciplinarian he slapped me once and that impact has led me to defy authority all of my life.
My mom was a tiny woman, and my birth trauma set the course of my entire life. I was a 9 pound baby, and in those days, in 1931, without antibiotics on the scene, they went for the forceps solution and damaged my hearing. And then some.
I spent my early childhood years with no one being aware that I was tuned out all the time and pretty much lived in my own world. They put it off to my being an only child. Finally it dawned on them, when I wouldn't respond to their calling from another room, that diagnosis was in order… but my isolate-style personality was pretty well formed.
Specialists then thought in terms of high frequency loss from nerve damage, etc. but at that time they were not into things like auditory processing disorder and stuff. That's basically what I've lived with, right on through my use of hearing aids in recent years. These sort of help, but my personality, my entire life, has been formed by not relating to the spoken word.
It takes a special effort to engage in conversation. I can talk to you, but hearing you back may not be easy. That has forced all of my choices. I don’t go to meetings because I can’t deal with cross talk and lose 90% of what is being said. When people ask about popular songs from whenever, the lyrics, all that stuff, its not my world… its a big blank space.
A big thing for me is improvising at the piano, but I don’t live in the harmonic world, or the world of popular music. It’s all about rhythm and sound. It's going off into some ancient human space, or a future among the galaxies. I can't play with anyone, unless they can pick something up from what I'm doing, so that just follows in the pattern of the rest of my life.
Dartmouth was both stimulating, and difficult, for all these reasons. I studied comparative literature and musicology. I particularly remember the philosophy prof, and another guy who taught an entire semester course on Marcel Proust. After my junior year I went to Europe on something called The Experiment in International Living. We went over on a boat and spent the summer there, hosted by a matching group of French kids. We lived in the town where they were, and took a bike trip together up into the French Alps and from there I walked up onto my first glacier, Les Ecrans.
These earlier events seem to loom larger than the more recent happenings of my life. Time warp really has an inner dimension. I took a break from Dartmouth, went to Bard College for a semester, had a child with my first wife whom I met there, moved back to Hanover where I completed the BA program at Dartmouth as a "married student", and in short order, with one child in tow, moved to Dallas, then Boulder, and bang, end of first family. I found myself back in New York City, took a job training in the media department with the advertising firm, Benton and Bowles. I was not able to stick with that… these gung ho corporate team players wanted round the clock dedication… YUK.
I quit and took the first paycheck I could grab by signing on as playground supervisor in lower Manhattan; then I met the 2nd lady in my life, who was studying acting at the American Theatre Wing where I had registered for a play-writing class. We got married and my wife and I both took jobs as teachers in a small private school near Amenia, N.Y. It was for really well-off, spoiled kids who had gotten in trouble… she taught English and I taught Physics, which had been a fascinating interest of mine for years. But I really had to study the details in order to teach it, learning one lesson ahead of what I had to teach. Eventually we produced 3 children.
Then we moved to San Francisco in the early 60s so I could pick up an M.A. in Language Arts at San Francisco State. I completed my academic work and then it came time to write my thesis, which was supposed to be a volume of poetry under the auspices of the Poetry Center there but was never completed.
We then moved to a five acre enclave we had bought in Forestville. We lived there for 6 years, wonderful spot, but not good for vegetable growing, rocky, short of water, shady, all that.
Meanwhile, this was the era of the "Alternative School". We had kids, and it became clear that we would have to do our own. At first, I started up the One Room Schoolhouse, a small private school, first through fourth grade. This morphed into the non-profit Redwood School Association, where lots more families joined in. I served at first as President of that Board. Soon it became a combined school and high school, and expanded in scope and membership. I was relieved that Mariposa School was here when we moved up to Mendocino County.
We had been looking to get a sunnier, more useful property, and the prices were right when we moved to an 8 acre parcel on the McNab ranch in 1971. That property included the original main house, and we stayed there for 9 years, where we did a kind of truck farming.
I also had a friend here, a retired G.E. engineer no less, who was absolutely convinced that he had developed an algorithm that would anticipate moves in the options market. He convinced me that if he had a fast enough computer with his algorithm in there, we would know what was going to happen in the market just in time to know how to play it. I was totally impressed with his credentials. We spent a good 2 years struggling with this while I dumped money into the options market. But he couldn’t make it work. I discovered years later how the big investment banks, like Lehman Brothers, et al, criminally moved the market itself in order to skew the option prices, and there was no way anyone could play on what you'd call a level field in that market.
I continued to be involved in school activism after we moved here. There was a high school survey that Bonnie Carter and I worked on here in Ukiah. We got permission to do it. We asked the students how they felt about their teachers… what was their day like, what did they wish the school could do, etc. We found out that the school shouldn’t have been built windowless… that they were not treated on an equal basis or given rights. The School Board did not like it. They did not want that. They said it wasn’t scientific although it was as scientific as you could get. I participated in a middle schools task force and also supported the student newspaper at the college in its battle at that time with a classically stodgy, conservative, anti-academic and anti-adjunct professor administration. I’ve always been a school gadfly.
I wrote a letter to the editor just recently, back in June, about the 2014 Pomolita Career Fair. A story had been written in the “Daily Dwindle”… the shrinking Ukiah Daily Journal, that the most popular career choice among the students was the military. I had to comment on that. Those military recruiters have no business being at a career fair for middle school seventh and eighth graders. Unlike most other job presenters, recruiters lie about reality and serve up toxic helpings of our government's worst manipulative propaganda. Hey, we've got great video games, you can be inside a tank, and blow everything up… you can pilot drones with the greatest virtual reality software… we can give you a great outdoor life, and - get this! - pay for any school you might want to go to sometime later.
Speaking of the military, early in my life, when I was worried about being drafted to go to Korea, and that was one of our earliest phony wars, a psychiatrist wrote that I would never take orders. And I don’t… not even from the Universe. I mean by that, "I refuse to be a fatalist", or meekly bow down before the grim reaper by attending local Death Cafe meetings. Think Nietzsche.
Curmudgeon is an interesting word. It is an attitude in which a person is tired of repeating patterns over and over again… has seen it all happen… and recognizes that something is wrong and has to be nailed on the spot. So they get nasty about it because they don’t have the patience to have other people trying to figure their way through it. So successful curmudgeonry is a talent which older people earn and younger people use as an epithet.
In reality, I’m a communist. Pure and simple. None of this endlessly selfish climbing up the so-called economic ladder. This notion that private property equates to privacy, and that individualism thrives on competition and applause is totally devoid of ethical content. Private property rights are the meal ticket of the real estate industry. Democratic government should be administration by the community, and our present governmental pecking order is totally corrupted by every vested interest you can imagine.
People don’t need to have the right to "own" anything. Privacy and private space is important, but the idea of property that should be "owned"? That’s insane. That it can be bought and sold? That’s insane. The real estate industry is a frivolous waste of economic resources. I also have an old irrational reaction to the American flag that stems from the enforced pledge of allegiance back in my early school days. Seems that flag is like every flag of every country, focus of "loyalty" to the "country" and "we shall fight to the death for it". To me it is a symbol for everything that’s wrong. Its the patriotic (as in idiotic) noise of the military murder machine wherever they need to justify killing.
My quickie capsule: Coming out of our previously all-male alma mater, my spermatozoic adventures meandered thru three "marriages" (one formalized), five kids (by three mothers) ranging in age from 31 through 59, 8 grandkids 4 - 24, and 2 great grands (under 1). Demographics: total of 5 males, 10 females. Such a ratio in my view fortuitously may help in some unspecified way with global warming. Some may consider my contribution here an amusing display of public dementia. Well, at least it's not an obit.
And so here's my poem about mommies:
Great Warriors Come in Small Packages
Mom’s the postal clerk, here,
And the address, where
Parental personae wait at the door,
To sign you IN, and shine you ON.
So, you are carried, well packaged
And duly stamped with Gene code and Star map,
Primed for delivery into this churning world;
Shimmering tiny dewdrop of pure human,
You are also as large as the mind of the Universe,
and tough as tempered steel
at the cutting edge of time.
(Coming Up: Tom Brower — Farmer, Mendocino Lavender; Janie Sheppard — Lawyer, Community Advocate. Mendocino Talking archive)